The Washington Post

U.S. pledges more money for peace program in Afghanistan

The United States pledged $50 million Wednesday to jump-start a slow-moving program to encourage Taliban members in Afghanistan to stop fighting and support the government.

Facing rising levels of violence in recent years, Afghan and U.S. officials have struggled to craft incentives for insurgents to give up their cause. But government-funded programs have been plagued by misspent funds, and fledgling talks with Taliban leaders have made little headway.

At a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, the secretary of a council of prominent Afghans tasked with advancing the peace process, told reporters that the Kabul government and the Taliban are still in contact and pursuing eventual negotiations.

“They have come to us, and we also have sent representatives to them,” Stanekzai said. “Discussions are going on right now.”

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, speaking at the same news conference, said the U.S. funds will be used to support both the high-level discussions and the programs to woo lower-level fighters from the battlefield. The money will pay for facilitating meetings, as well as development projects in communities where young men have joined the insurgency, job training programs and support for those who leave the fight.

Eikenberry pledged a new “diplomatic surge” to pursue peace in Afghanistan. The goal, he said, “is to assist the government of Afghanistan in achieving responsible political reconciliation to help end the conflict in Afghanistan and to build support for a peace settlement among regional powers and the broader international community.”

U.S. officials here are voicing more-open support for a political settlement, a shift from last year, when many insisted that the time for negotiation was after the military had hammered insurgents into a weakened state.

In late 2009, President Hamid Karzai announced that he was making it a priority to bring back into the fold Taliban members who had renounced ties with terrorists and would accept the Afghan constitution. Last year, a large traditional meeting, or peace jirga, was held to pursue this goal, and the High Peace Council was established.

Although about 2,000 former fighters have joined the “reintegration” program and renounced violence, the war’s dynamic has remained unchanged, as Taliban members in great numbers remain committed to fighting the Afghan government and foreign troops.

Provincial governors have long said they do not have money to pay, house or employ insurgents who choose to lay down their arms. In some cases, men who tried the peace program eventually returned to fighting. And the central government has lacked the capacity to disburse the previously pledged funds, a situation Eikenberry said was improving “slowly.”

Soon all the governors will have a “floating fund” at their disposal, which will allow them to spend up to $10,000 at their discretion to pursue opportunities to bring in insurgents, he said.

The Afghan officials in charge, Eikenberry said, would “rather go slower and ensure good accountability and maintain credibility of the program than to race to a failure.”

Also Wednesday, Afghan officials said former insurgents who were in a reintegration program are now suspected of taking an assault rifle from a Nepalese guard and opening fire during an anti-Koran-burning riot last week that left seven U.N. workers dead, the Associated Press reported.

Lawmaker Mohammad Akbari said government investigators have identified three men they think were involved in the killing of three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese guards in the Friday attack on the U.N. office in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, according to the AP.

Joshua Partlow is The Post’s bureau chief in Mexico. He has served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and as a correspondent in Brazil and Iraq.

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